Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year

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Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year

Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year

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Thurber, Bev (18 January 2019). "19.08.10 Parker, Dragon Lords". The Medieval Review. ISSN 1096-746X. Now, this is very curious because, as Eleanor Parker points out, autumn is very much not the time for journeying (not even the Anglo-Saxon autumn which began on 7th August!). Spring is the journeying season and, of course, that is when Bilbo sets off at the start of The Hobbit . He leaves in April, a month forever associated with pilgrimage since Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales . But the key date at the start of The Lord of the Rings is not April 28th (when Bilbo first leaves Bag End) but September 22nd, Bilbo’s birthday and Frodo’s too. Rather than leave Bag End in spring, they leave on or about the autumn solstice. In other words, they leave the Shire at precisely the wrong time of year.

Eleanor Parker’s Winters in the World is a lyrical journey through the Anglo-Saxon year, witnessing the major festivals and the turning of the seasons through the eyes of the poets. Beginning during the darkest days of winter, when writers read desolation and dread in the world, we are introduced to the hopefulness of the festivals of returning light; the promise of better (and less hungry) times ahead as the days lengthen and the plants bud; the fruitfulness of the harvest; and the calm reflection of the autumn. We feel the thrumming in our souls as we recognize on some primaeval level the connectedness of humanity, the environment, and the cycles of nature and life, even if other aspects – the marking of the seasons, the religiosity, the extremes of feast and famine – are alien to us. And we approach an appreciation of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors as we dive into the rhythms of their lives and language, their turns of phrase, and the force of their habits. Carey, John (6 February 2022). "Conquered by Eleanor Parker review — Anglo-Saxon life after the Norman conquest". The Times . Retrieved 25 February 2022. I also was surprised to see how integral the Catholic faith was in the Anglo-Saxon world. I'd expected to read a fair amount about pagan rituals but the author made it clear that this was a Christian world with only a glancing relationship with pagan religions. The way the faith was practiced then was, of course, different than now but there was enough in common to make me feel a connection with those times. In fact, I now am interested in getting my hands on some of Aelfric's homilies, many excerpts of which were featured in this book.This is a lyrical and wide-ranging exploration of the Anglo-Saxon world through its literature, using the framing device of the cycle of the traditional year. A someone who has read most of the Old English poetry and other works Parker draws on, some of it in the original language, it was a pleasure to revisit it via this perspective. She highlights both the elements which are timeless and have not changed and the ways in which this world was very alien. Spring and summer are welcomed and celebrated, but a world in which winter was hard and sometimes fatal didn't go in much for Keatsian wistfulness about autumn, for example. Foot, Sarah (19 August 2022). "Conquered: The last children of Anglo-Saxon England by Eleanor Parker". Church Times . Retrieved 26 August 2022. There isn’t space to explore the implications of all this here - though I am attempting to do so more thoroughly in my PhD - but even this brief survey suggests that, in some respects, the action in The Lord of Rings shadows, or fore-shadows, salvation history itself. All this combines to make a work of rare value. It will be interesting to the history or literature buff. For me, I found my prayer life took on new focus and depth. As I went my day and the recent liturgical seasons, I thought of those long-ago Catholic Anglo-Saxons doing the same thing, taking it seriously, knowing that prayer matters, that saints will rush to your aid, that God gives us all that is good in life beginning with the riches of the natural world around us. I have just finished reading Eleanor Parker’s excellent new book, Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year . Rather than write a traditional review, I thought I’d offer an article that is part review and part reflection with a Tolkienian twist.

So one day, although autumn was now getting far on, and winds were cold, and leaves were falling fast, three large boats left Lake-town, laden with rowers, dwarves, Mr Baggins, and many provisions… The only person thoroughly unhappy was Bilbo. Today it’s become a popular myth that that symbols linked in modern Britain with Easter, especially eggs, hares or rabbits, derive from the worship of Eostre, but there’s no Anglo-Saxon evidence to support that. None of these symbols were linked to Easter in the Anglo-Saxon period; eggs weren’t associated with Easter in Britain until the later Middle Ages, hares and rabbits not until much later still. There’s nothing to suggest any continuity of customs between the pre-conversion festival and the Anglo-Saxon Christian Easter, and the modern observance of Easter owes nothing to Anglo-Saxon paganism, with the sole exception of its English name. There are many things I love about this book. As readers of her blog , History Today columns , Patreon articles , and books will already know, Eleanor Parker writes with great clarity and a deep knowledge of British history. On this occasion, she takes us, season by season, through the Anglo-Saxon year, teaching us a surprising amount about our own age as well as a great deal about the ways the Anglo-Saxons saw the world. On the way she also scuppers some deep-rooted myths. For example, she writes: There is, of course, a great deal more to be said about both Tolkien and the Anglo-Saxon year but that’s probably enough from me for the time being. I’ll finish with another quotation from Eleanor Parker which really sums up the importance of the calendar to the Anglo-Saxons (and not just the Anglo-Saxons). She’s writing about Aelfric and other authors of his time, though her words could equally apply to Tolkien, I think:Davies, Rhiannon (2 December 2022). "21 best books for history lovers: BBC History Magazine's Books of the Year 2022". BBC History . Retrieved 7 December 2022.



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